Priorities, Practice and the Evolving Legal Model

Chief Judge Joel F. Dubina of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit spoke at the 2013 commencement at the Cumberland School of Law. There, he urged the graduates to “avoid scheduling your life away.” He admonished them that “You make this journey through life only once, and some things can be done only during a certain part of your life. You can’t tell an 18-year-old that at long last you have time and are ready to play with him or her. The time to help a friend in trouble is now, not when it is more convenient.”

In an era when commencement speeches are all too often long on words but short on inspiration, I found Judge Dubina’s thoughts right on the money. It’s a message that attorneys and most professionals need to hear. However, I feel a bit different about this topic than I did a few years ago. I believe that the onerous burden of law firm life that befalls new graduates (those who land jobs – possibly a topic for another day) is not as certain a fate as it once was.

Fortunately for the practice of law, we are seeing more and more attorneys enter the legal marketplace with a very different sense of who they are and what they are going to do with their lives. As well as how they are going to do it.

Most new graduates realize that the stories of that fated brass ring of even a few years ago are just that, stories. The days where you do well in school, go to big law, work hard, pay your dues, make partner and segue into a more manageable professional existence are long gone. So far in the past are they that there is only a small population that is still practicing that actually experienced that fabled career trajectory.

These new generations of lawyers are slowly redefining what it means to be a good lawyer. They are showing time and time again, that good, even great, lawyers take on many forms; many of those forms flouting convention and the “traditional” way of developing a legal career.

At Counsel On Call we began to see this in the early 2000s as our company gained traction. When I joined the company in 2005, the most prevalent question I got was “If he is such a good lawyer, why would he ever leave the firm?” Now the answer is self-evident. We have hundreds of exceptional lawyers working with us and the reasons that they do what they do are as varied as the faces I look out and see when I visit one of our Managed Services facilities or eat lunch with a group of our attorneys who practice remotely.

Judge Dubina concluded his remarks with “The greatest lawyers and judges in this country have been those who saw their work as an esteemed profession bound by an oath about justice, and not as a market-driven search for profit at any cost.” I deal with attorneys every day – at Counsel On Call and with our clients both corporate and law firm – and my faith in our profession is constantly renewed as I see people making decisions about their lives and the work they do that are based upon considerations far outpacing those delineated in Judge Dubina’s speech.

And this is a really good thing.

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